Listen to the Music

Here's a snippet from an email sent out by the Republican Party of Texas this evening:

Texas is home to three of these so-called Blue Dog Democrats who are caving to the radical leftwing Democrats. They are Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Waco), Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio). These Blue Dogs should not be Pelosi's lap dogs. They need to hear from Texans that enough is enough, and a vote for the Democrats’ government-run health care system will be the end of their political careers. Please follow the links and call them, now.

Here's a snippet from an email that Barack sent out about 1PM today:

It’s time to fix our unsustainable insurance system and create a new foundation for health care security. That means guaranteeing your health care security and stability with eight basic consumer protections:

* No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
* No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays
* No cost-sharing for preventive care
* No dropping of coverage if you become seriously ill
* No gender discrimination
* No annual or lifetime caps on coverage
* Extended coverage for young adults
* Guaranteed insurance renewal so long as premiums are paid

Over the next month there is going to be an avalanche of misinformation and scare tactics from those seeking to perpetuate the status quo. But we know the cost of doing nothing is too high. Health care costs will double over the next decade, millions more will become uninsured, and state and local governments will go bankrupt.

No doubt some smart person on some well respected blog could dissect either email, pinpoint the lies and fabrications and deliver some unassailable commentary about the respective truthfulness of these missives. This is not that blog. This is just arguing with a fencepost, and this is what the fencepost hears from me.

On the one hand you have an aggressive, purely political call to action that names names and details consequences. The Republican Party of Texas makes no bones about it. They write the labels in bold letters ... "leftwing radicals", "lap dogs", "government-run healthcare" ... and the call to action is quite clear.

On the other you have the broad 'we're gonna fix it' brush covering over every nagging healthcare problem, with "new foundations" and "guarantees." Instead of naming names, it insinuates that any information that doesn't support 'doing something' is just "misinformation and scare tactics" and then it immediately tries to scare the crap out of you with "costs will double" and "uninsured" and "bankrupt."

No reading between the lines or parsing the phrasing is really necessary, is it? Just read it and get a feel for it ... the tone ... the manipulation* ... the agenda. The conclusion I came to was this:

If bullshit was music, Barack would be a brass band.**

* it reminds me of Mr. Mainway's attempt to market the Bag O' Glass

** based on a Paddy Crosbie quote


Bad Parents

The meeting started a few minutes late. We were hoping one or two more members would show up because of the whole 'decently and in order' thing. Two additional members arrived about five minutes late so we had our quorum. If they had not shown up we would have canceled the meeting. Rules can be pesky like that.

Just as the previous meeting minutes were approved there was a knock at the outside door and immediately a curious "Hello?" coming from the hallway outside the office. Apparently the outside door was unlocked. Never one to miss an opportunity to sneak out of a meeting, I volunteered to investigate.

In the hallway was a stubby, forty-ish woman, somewhat disheveled, sweaty but not stinky, who, upon seeing me, immediately launched a breathless story about running out of gas and eviction notices and feeding kids and the bad economy. She waved her hands broadly, her head bobbing up and down and side to side, attempting to pin my eyes with hers, just outside the closed office door.

The hallway connects the office with Sunday school classrooms, the nursery and the fellowship hall. It's empty, except for me and this woman. The meeting was after hours. The scene triggered a memory of a young man about 6 years old standing in the same hallway and gesturing in the same way as the unexpected visitor. He was attempting to explain to me why it had been necessary for him to get a bucket of ice cubes from the kitchen, carry it to the top of the spiral slide on the playground and dump it down the slide while a group of little girls was attempting to climb up the slide. Upon removal from the playground by the nearest enforcer (aka "parent"), which happened to be me, he was pleading his case in hopes of preventing being ratted out to his parents.

The temptation to fire up the public safety and courtesy lecture was strong. Somehow, I resisted. I simply told him, "I will be speaking to your Dad about this", and I did. Later the boy remarked to my son, "You sure have a mean Dad" which is, of course, one of the great aspirations of my life ... to be "the mean Dad."

The delivery of the woman's "out of gas" story was flawless, and obviously well rehearsed. She attempted to herd me into a corner by circling around and standing uncomfortably close. I stood my ground and, having made the mental connection to the guilty six year old, easily adopted the role of parental observer. Her tone changed from subtly demanding to practiced pleading.

She dug in her purse saying, "I can show you the gas gauge on the car it's right out here in the parking lot and I've got the eviction notice right here. I need to get to daycare to get my kids soon or they'll charge me extra for being late. I've been looking for work all day and lost track of time. I only need twenty ... or ten or whatever you or your friends can spare." The last was said just quickly enough so it was clear the retail price was twenty dollars. I didn't say anything and instead just walked to the outside door and opened it. She stayed inside. I reached for my wallet. She stepped outside. I handed her ten dollars and said, "Don't come back." She left, without saying thanks of course, feeling, no doubt, that she had won.

She drove out of the parking lot in her older, but clean, Lexus sedan. The back plate was in a green and white 'DriveTime' license plate holder. There was a man in the passenger seat. I didn't care where they were going.

Once, a few years ago, our friend's fourth grade daughter opined, "Even third graders have cell phones now, Dad!" to which her father replied, "They must have bad parents." She didn't get the cell phone, and probably felt she had lost the argument without realizing the lesson. She probably will, someday.

After the meeting someone asked "Who was that at the door?" I told the story, briefly, and someone commented, "That was very Christian of you." I knew what they meant. And I knew they were wrong. Being a good Christian does not usually involve handing out money in inconsequential denominations. It was just bad parenting.

The money was a pay off, pure and simple. It wasn't given with a charitable heart and it really meant nothing to either of us. She gained ten dollars, hush money. Ten bucks for 5 minutes work. Maybe she earned it, the way that whiny kids throwing a tantrum earn the candy or toy that keeps them quiet. When you see that little drama between a parent and child play out in a store somewhere, do you ask yourself, "Who's the parent?" If the child gets the toy, you immediately know, at least at that particular moment in time. Is it fair to the child to put them in charge? What do they learn, the powerful strategy of whining?

Good parents say no ... a lot. They know if they don't the kids won't be able to handle failure and they will spend all their time pouting and moaning and crying and saying "But that's not FAIR!"

Which we all know comes once a year, usually in October.



It happened once on September 26, 1996, the night the Texas Rangers clinched the American League West for the first time ever. I was driving home on Central Expressway. Then there was the time at the Trail Dust Steakhouse in Denton, on March 4, 2001, after the house band played the first few bars of 'San Antonio Rose.' Another time I was sitting on the rickety front porch of a mobile home in Lake Dallas, drinking beer from a cooler on a hot muggy evening, while waiting for the spray to dissipate from a bug bomb inside our trailer. The stereo inside was cranked up so we could hear it with the windows and doors closed, but we had neglected to leave a light on and it was dark outside. And it also happened, unexpectedly, on Easter, in 2008, after a relatively routine visit to the hospital.

I'm sure it happens more than I care to admit or remember. Perhaps because it's not something I would typically record for posterity. Today, however, was truly surprising. I thought I should make a note.

In 1996 I was driving home alone from the hospital the day my son was born. The Trail Dust in 2001 was just dinner out with a bunch of friends from church, though it was the day after Dad's funeral. Lake Dallas was college days, and like so many of them, I was drinking beer, probably Coors, with Ed. We were no doubt solving the mysteries of life with our educated and worldly wise perspective. Easter 2008 was when my niece Colby was born. And today, well, was just another Sunday, which makes it all the more puzzling.

Today our church had planned a July 4th celebration. After services we served hot dogs, apple pie and ice cream in the fellowship hall. We had a short choir program of patriotic songs planned, and our service veterans brought memorabilia and medals and photos and uniforms to display. My wife is chair of the Congregational Life committee so for the last several years I have approached each of these events with more of a sense of obligation than anticipation. As I was grilling hot dogs I even lamented to one of my friends that it would be awful nice to simply roll out of bed on Sunday morning, come to worship and then go home, but it always seems like there is something 'extra' to do ... the curse of having a limited volunteer pool.

Our church is not big, we have about 250 members, and with the holiday weekend chances were the crowd wouldn't be huge, and it wasn't. We served about 100 people. It was a typical fellowship event. We ate before the preacher had a chance to say the blessing. Several people went straight to the dessert table, bypassing the longer line for hot dogs. Kids put too much on their plate, and everyone praised the food, more for its spirit than its quality, I'm sure.

The memorabilia table was quite impressive. Who knew we had so many distinguished service people in our congregation? I was truly humbled.

The choir sang a medley of service anthems ... there were caissons and anchors, wild blue yonders and the shores of Tripoli. The audience sang along. As the different anthems were sung people would stand in support of the branch in which they had served. I was at the back of the room, watching men and women stand with pride, and I was humbled again. I grew up and started my adult life in the time between Vietnam and the first Gulf War, and I know I have benefited from the sacrifice and service of these men and women. I have always appreciated those who served, because I do not know if I could have, but often wonder if it's dutiful obligation or sincere appreciation that I'm feeling. Today, at church, with those members I've come to respect and admire standing and singing, I realized that their service was not out of obligation, but out of love, and that no other reason would suffice for the risk and committment required of them. They must have gladly served. And I'm sincerely glad they did.

It actually happened when the choir sang a few verses from 'O Beautiful' and finished up with 'God Bless America' ... something about God or blessings or being purposefully moral ... I'm not sure exactly what caused it.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self
their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
... and then ...

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
I'm leaning against the back wall watching old, sometimes frail, men scattered throughout the room, singing with pride. I see a young man in his current uniform, with his daughter and his parents, and I recognize the pride I have for him. I see boys in scout uniforms respecting their country and their elders, preparing to be men some day. I see mothers whose sons serve, and wives who supported their husband's service. And I see that it is love, not pride or greed or arrogance or the pursuit of power, that enables these people, these every day people, these Americans, to achieve 'more than self.' And I cried.

Okay, technically, I didn't cry. I just sort of misted up. And now that I think about it, it could probably be attributed to the smoke from grilling hot dogs.

That night driving home on my son's birthday? I did have the windows open. It was probably air pollution, and not the awe of new born life mixed with the fear of parenting, that made me rub my eyes.

And it's much more plausible that the stuffed jalapenos at the Trail Dust watered my eyes, not those corny Bob Wills lyrics that Dad used to sing when we rattled around the Texas panhandle in any number of old trucks.

That night at the trailer? Well, yes, we did talk a little about his brother Buddy's funeral, and how seeing his family suffer from a distance impacted me, but those bug bombs were pretty strong and I'm sure we caught a whiff or two because the air was so heavy and still.

Colby's birthday? Well, of course I was happy that this precious little girl was born to such wonderful parents, that always makes you feel good because good parents are hard to find! But it was probably more a function of driving back from San Antonio that day ... you know, the weather and pollen count can change a lot in a couple of hours of driving in Texas.

Yeah. That's it. It was probably just the old allergies acting up.